Daniel Ricciardo’s move to Red Bull Racing is a chance of a lifetime for the Aussie to prove himself — but the pressure to perform will be immense, not least because the rule changes mean RBR might no longer be the team to beat in 2014. Ricciardo landed the job after a lengthy debate in the Red Bull camp. Kimi Raikkonen was the most serious alternative, while the surprise emergence of Fernando Alonso as a potential candidate — after some internal friction at Ferrari caused the Spaniard to see what else might be available — gave team boss Christian Horner a chance to wind up his rivals.
In the end the team decided this was the right time to promote a product of the Red Bull junior programme, which has brought many drivers to F1 level, only for the company to abandon them on the basis that they hadn’t quite proved to be the next Sebastian Vettel.
A number of factors created a perfect storm that worked in Ricciardo’s favour. Bringing in an established star would create a difficult dynamic in a team so strongly influenced by Vettel, whereas the easy-going Ricciardo, part of the Red Bull family since his Formula Renault days, would be a perfect fit. He’s also cheap… and Adrian Newey would rather have extra millions to pump into his R&D programme.
Ricciardo had a good record on the Red Bull junior path, via British F3 and Renault 3.5. What really won him the RBR seat were some stellar qualifying performances in 2013, as he has regularly put his STR inside the top 10 and consistently outpaced team-mate Jean-Eric Vergne, although the Frenchman has put in some strong race drives.
He now has to perform against Vettel – and the honeymoon period will be short. Ricciardo will start at Red Bull aged 24 and with 50 GP starts behind him, while Vettel was 21 and had contested just 26 F1 races when he joined in 2009, although he was a title contender from the off. That’s what Ricciardo must match.